Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Ruth Dawkins’s essay The Last Bedtime Story. We asked readers, “Write about the last time your child did something or you and your child did something together. How did you know it was the last time? Why was it significant?” Below is Kathleen Donohoe’s response.
By Kathleen Donohoe
When my son was three, he and I began to travel the New York City subway system together, going only away from home and back again.
We lived in Carroll Gardens, a neighborhood called the most beautiful Brooklyn, which my husband and I could afford only because our landlady charged far less for the top floor of her brownstone than she could have.
Daily, I rose at four a.m. to write before heading to my office job. At six p.m., I collected Liam from daycare. Always, I wanted to just go home. Always, I intended to be firm, to say no. But Liam was train-mad. I imagined being told no, you can’t read a book. So instead of taking the Brooklyn bound F or G one stop, we boarded the Manhattan bound. We went two stops, or three or four, leaping out and then turning back.
Before long, we spent Saturdays and Sundays doing this, but we ventured deep into Manhattan transferring and transferring, going down one set of stairs and climbing another. The J! The D! The 7! The S! And the exotic, the end of alphabet, the Z.
Then, in November 2013, our landlady sold her brownstone. We were evicted, too broke to move. During the four months we lived with my parents on Long Island, my husband managed to switch careers and I sold my first novel. This is a much longer story, but, in brief, we made it back to Brooklyn, only five stops further on the F line. Liam returned to his former daycare. Once again, I picked him up at six p.m., but when I asked if he wanted to “take the train” he’d say no, he wanted to go home.
Those trips had been exhausting, and I did not mourn the mechanics of them. But for Liam, they had been pure adventure. I missed the way his eyes widened when he saw rats scampering on the tracks. How he’d listened to the four gentlemen who boarded F and sang “I Got Sunshine” in perfect acapella. I missed his amusement when only one of the train doors opened and everyone had to squeeze themselves out of it.
I don’t remember our final to-nowhere ride, but I knew we were moving away and that we might never live in Brooklyn again. Whenever it was, wherever we went, it was the last time the world underground was magical.
When I think of those rides, I best remember the time we took the N train over the Manhattan Bridge. I pointed out the Freedom Tower.
The towers fell, Liam said, and Grandpa picked them up. Yes, I’d answered. With the other firefighters. They picked them up. I turned him to look at the Brooklyn Bridge across the way. There’s ours, I said.
Kathleen Donohoe is the author of the novels Ghost of the Missing (February 2020) and Ashes of Fiery Weather, which was named one of Book Riot’s 100 Must-Read New York City Novels. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Web Conjunctions, Harpur Palate, Irish America Magazine, Washington Square and the anthology The Writing Irish of New York. Donohoe grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where she lives now with her husband and son.